Ending violence in schools with positive discipline

A photo essay depicting the impact of positive discipline techniques on school children in Cambodia.

Voctoria Laroche
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Fani Llaurado

17 September 2019

In 2015, teachers at Peam Ror Primary School in Prey Veng Province of Cambodia, took part in the first positive discipline training sessions in Cambodia. The photo essay below tells the story of how the school has been transformed to a more positive environment for teachers and students.

A boy look out from the classroom
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Fani Llaurado

“I used to be scared of teachers and going to school. But now things are different,” Vuty (11) said, noting changes at his school since his teachers received training on positive discipline skills.

At Peam Ror Primary School, there was a steady decline in student attendance and many of those who did attend school were getting poor grades. Mr Keo Saren, was determined to explore ways to reverse the trend. He was approached by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) to enrol teachers in a pilot training programme on positive discipline funded by UNICEF through its partner SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency), USAID (United States Agency for International Development ) and Primark.

Mr Keo Saren, a teacher at Peam Ror Primary School
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Fani Llaurado
A girl has fun in the playground
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

At Peam Ror Primary School, children were subjected to various kinds of corporal punishment, and other forms of discipline with negative physical and psychological effects on students. One of these was standing on one leg with arms raised. Since teachers started applying positive discipline techniques, children are now more likely to be seen taking this stance during a game of hop-scotch than as a form of punishment.

“Once, a parent reported that their child had returned home bleeding with his earlobe cut because a teacher had pulled it hard,” said School Director, Mr Saren. Peam Ror Primary School has created a commune counselling group to share positive discipline techniques at the community level. Parents have taken note of the positive outcomes of the techniques and are applying them at home. Here Long Sokna (12) is doing her homework with her mother while her young brother, Kakada (4) plays with a toy.

Long Sokna doing homework with her mom
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado
Mr Mork Koy
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

Mr Mork Koy has been a teacher for 30 years. Describing his experience of discipline in the classroom he said, “I beat a child with a book, I hit him so hard he started to throw up “If a child stepped out of line, I was quick to hit him. Now I feel so bad thinking about it, I’m ashamed about how I used to treat my students,” He is now an advocate for positive discipline in the school and leads the school’s Discipline Committee.

The number of bullying incidents and peer to peer violence has dropped significantly because teachers stopped using corporal punishment, and other forms of discipline with negative physical and psychological effects on students”, School Director Keo Saren explained.

Children at school
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado
Laughter in the classroom
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

Laughter and smiles replace fear and tears in the classroom. Positive discipline techniques have led to improved relationships between teachers and students in Peam Ror School. Teachers model positive behavior their students can follow with kind words and no hitting.

Long Sokna, is one of the top performing students with good grades at Peam Ror School, she has also experienced physical violence from her teachers. “I used to get in trouble at school for not paying attention to the teacher and for playing during the lesson. I would get hit by the teacher for this. It made me feel really bad, and when my classmates got hit too, I would feel sorry for them” She recalls.

“I find it much easier to talk to my teacher now. When I don’t understand numeracy, I’m not afraid to ask questions. I like the way my teacher speaks gently to me and helps me understand. I feel braver to talk to her, I know she will not hit me.”

Long Sokna
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado
Mr Mork Koy explains the card system
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

Mr Mork Koy explains the card system of positive discipline to a student. A child who misbehaves is given a “yellow card” as a verbal warning by the teacher. If the situation persists, they are given another card, and are separated from their peers. If needed, the situation is escalated to a “red card” and the child is sent to the school director’s office where a more formal process of discipline starts, involving the disciplinary committee.

The disciplinary committee is made up of three representatives of the student council and eight members of the school staff including Mr Mork Koy who chairs the council with Mr Keo Saren. Serious disciplinary cases are discussed with members of the CCWC (Commune Council for Women and Children) which promotes and protects the rights of women and children in the community.

Disciplinary committee
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado
Children playing football
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

Peam Ror School is a friendlier and happier school than it was three years ago. Children enjoy coming to school and interactions between teachers and students are positive and enabling.

Peam Ror School has been transformed and students enjoy learning in this new environment. The positive training also had an impact on the interactions between students and school is finally a friendly place to go to.

A smiling boy
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Fani Llaurado

Three years ago, in one school year a record of 10 to 15 students dropping out of school was the norm. Since positive discipline techniques were applied, one student has stopped coming to the school and three others transferred to another school because their family relocated. With help from the CCWC, more is being done to encourage parents of students who left the school to re-enrol their children.

The school experience is a more positive one for students and teachers at Peam Ror Primary School — all agree it is important to #ENDViolence against children in schools.

Three years on from the launch of the positive discipline programme, 409 schools, with more than 3,400 teachers of about 120,300 students have taken part in the programme in Cambodia. Thanks to the support of SIDA, Primark and USAID, more teachers in Cambodia can take part in the programme and #ENDViolence against children in schools.